At Yeners Cakes we receive wedding, birthday and other special event cake orders regularly. Some cakes come and go and no one remembers them, while some cakes leave a memory in our mind and a photo taken to be placed on our website. I believe these particular cakes are also talked about among guests of the events long after they’ve been consumed. Now that Yeners Way is around, it’s the perfect place to share the stories about these special cakes because (for various reasons) while they might not get a chance to become full video tutorials, they are definitely still worth talking about. So here is one of the stories I would like to share with you.
Sometime ago, a customer asked me to make a wedding cake with a large Disney castle on top. They wanted a unique couple figurine somewhere on the cake which was to be in a Sleeping Beauty theme. The groom was to be dressed as a special Knight in armor and of course the bride to be dressed as a sleeping beauty princess. On their first visit I spent about half an hour with them and tried to get as much information as possible. During a consultation like this, I am especially interested to know what the bride sees in her imagination when she closes her eyes. I wasn’t getting much of a clear picture from her and that was a good thing because then the cake comes more from my imagination and this much more enjoyable of course. I also asked her to stand up and show me, by lifting her arm, what her expectation of the cake height was, regardless of how many portions it will be. The height she showed me indicated that they needed to buy far more cake than they need. Okay, so that was enough information to start a design on paper, that met their requirements and purposes. At that stage of the consultation, I didn’t need to close my eyes to see the complete design…I just had to scribble some lines on an A4 page and hope that the quick sketched design I offered includes all the components they wanted while also meeting their budget.
I stopped asking questions and started sketching and explaining exactly what was on my mind. This is the special moment in a consultation, of planting a belief in the customers mind that they can trust you and that they are in the right place. At this stage, there’s no need to go into too much detail and I just try to present the idea quite generally, to leave some space for myself to move and make further spontaneous decisions.
A 50cm high castle that will be placed on a 30cm dummy cake. The centre pillar should have a 25cm clearance between the second and third tier, so that I can make this area a medieval backdrop for where the special couple will be placed. The bottom two tiers will be placed on top of each other and textured like a building façade relevant to that time. The cake will be finished with red roses climbing on vine branches. As I was drawing, the bride had an idea and asked me to add thorns to the branches to resemble the story of Sleeping Beauty. It made complete sense to me. When the drawing was finished I could see the complete satisfaction from their faces. They smiled and asked, “how much?”. I then explained to them how I price the cake with an itemisation process and that I would send them the quotation via email. It was all done and agreed and the project started. The rest of the day I was working on some other cakes but my mind was partially engaged with this cake. The first challenge was to finish the cake in the next 4 days. The second challenge was that I had to do all the other ordered cakes at the same time. The event was held 80km away and transport was also another challenge but not a big deal if I planned accordingly and mad the cake in two pieces.
When you have such a short time, you need to be able to make quick decisions and get your hands on the sugar as soon as possible. So I needed to have reference pictures of a castle to do my actual size sketch and as always, Google Images comes very handy.
A large piece of paper, measuring tape and a bold pencil to get started. Without being too fussy, I used the reference images to draw a very rough sketch. I stuck two pieces of drawing paper (70cm x 50cm) horizontally so I had a drawing space of about 100cm x 70cm and I promised customer that the cake would be a total height of 100cm. So the drawing had to touch the lower and upper edges of the paper and everything had to fit in between these two lines. I needed to make sure I stuck to the following guidelines through out the process…
- Board had to be 20cm larger than the cake which would give me 10 cm space all around after the cake is on the board. Matching material will be white velvet. The lower cake was 45cm so the board had to be 65 cm.
- I was only able to transport no more than 70cm (that’s the maximum height that would fit in the delivery car) and the customer wanted to keep the pillar area and the castle after the event. For a secure transport I decided to make the cake in two parts. So one is the lower two cakes with the pillars (but the pillars and the special couple can be removed). The second part was the third tear, which is dummy cake and the castle joint together. After arrival I have to only place the castle on top of the pillars. This kind of construction needs comprehensive thinking and all potential problems (as much as possible) must be solved on paper first.
- Red roses attached to a 3 part vine system (that looks like one piece when the cake is assembled) and nothing must break when the cake is dismantled.
- I had to make the castle parts on the same day as the plan. So that there is no chance to make the plan too complicated, I referred to the few reference pictures that I had which were all illustrations but slightly different from one another. I had to visually identify the simple geometrical shapes that made up the castle so that I can easily reproduce it on the same day colour it the next day. I drew a rough side view and a top view.
- All decisions about textures, colours and facade designs had to resemble medieval times and fairytale stories.
- When deciding on construction, I tried to keep thicknesses of the pipes and sizes of the boards according to what I had available in my cake workshop so that I wouldn’t have to lose more time for shopping. Thank god always have a good stock of PVC pipes, bolts and nuts, long threaded rods etc. We buy all our wooden boards in bulk and have just about every size with pre-drilled holes in the centre, always ready to go. If something missing was missing, there is also a hardware shop that’s in walking distance away.
- In addition, I decided to place LED lights in the castle so I had to think about, and draw on the plan, how to place the wires and how to hide the battery etc. The switch must be behind the cake but not too obvious.
So after about 2 hours, taking all of the above into consideration, the cake plan was ready on paper and I could now refer to it for measurements and guidance. I looked at my plan and gathered all the necessary construction parts according to the plan. I cut the Styrofoam dummy cake with my self-made Styrofoam cutter, which was an assembly of a car battery charger and a guitar string. I gathered all the right size tubes to roll the towers around and made my individual lists of items according to different actions. It was now around midday and I knew how to accomplish just about every step to finish the cake.
Only 4 days for this kind of work is actually very short. I had to make sure that each days work made life easier for the next day. It is always important to divide sugar work in different stages and give enough drying time in between to make the process easier for every stage. My 500g pastillage blocks are always ready to go. They are quite hard to start with but after 20 to 25 seconds in the microwave and bit of kneading, it gets to the perfect condition. For the first day, I aimed to have the following items completed…
- All the cylindrical towers rolled around the right size pipes and the windows cut out accordingly while the paste is still soft.
- All the square towers individual walls and windows.
- All the walls connecting individual round and square towers.
- All the roofs, spires and fascia pieces.
- All the walls centre post and the floor coverage for the centre pillar.
- All items textured accordingly. I used plastic texture sheets to create bricks and floor pavers.
- The basic body parts of the special couple also with white pastillage.
- I also made some sugar sticks in different thicknesses just as stand by preparation without knowing exactly where will I use them.
In the freezer and the fridge, we have 3 basic flavours in stock (dark mud, white mud and Delish) that are always layered and ready to go. We batch bake and sandwich 150kg of cake in different sizes all at once. So mixing, baking and sandwiching the white mud cake for the first and second tier of this cake was not an issue. The only work in relation to the cakes, was giving a good crumb coat, chocolate skin, and masking twice. The cakes were ready to coat with fondant before lunchtime. I left the cakes in the fridge so that I could coat them at the end of the day after they are nice and firm.
All the walls and towers needed to have some joining work. Square towers were glued. Some towers needed a second layer of stripes, like observation decks, balconies, entrances etc. I used a little white chocolate to get things to hold immediately and if I saw chocolate that was too visible, I used some royal icing to cover these areas and also to fill any large gaps. I made sure all individual blocks were as straight as possible. I continued with doing a little more work on the couple. The previously made basic body parts were nice and dry. I added the upper body parts and arms easily and left the rest for the next day.
My aim was to give a little background colour to the castle blocks and the medieval walls. Illustrations and pictures of Disney castles really varied in colours. I remembered when I was in Anaheim Disney castle which was washed with purplish pinkish lights at nighttime. I decided to give very light purplish/greyish airbrush to ready-glued one-piece pillar level and individual castle blocks for two reasons. One, because I wanted to see brick textures better because airbrush makes the indentations more visible. Secondly, because I was going to use white royal icing to give a lot more details and the airbrushing would also help to make the piping’s appear nicer. So I did the airbrushing (lightly) and I also placed all the roofs, spires and fascia parts on a separate tray to spray them all with edible gold (edible gold dust mixed with alcohol).
When I decided to use LED lights inside the castle I needed to do few earlier steps accordingly so that I don’t straggle later. I cut out some extra windows randomly beside the symmetrical ones and I made sure these windows were located more on the front side of the towers. Some towers had multiple levels; I had to cut out big enough holes so the wires could easily go through them. I placed opaque white cellophane sheets inside the towers so no light bulbs will be directly visible and the light would be softer. I placed all the towers in place and decided which ones will contain the light and how high the bulbs will be positioned. I used 9 in 1 set of LED lights with 1 metre thin wires attached to each bulb. All 9 wires combined to a small battery box with a switch. Using a Styrofoam dummy cake underneath the castle gave me the following possibilities…
- Mapping and carving large enough indentations into the Styrafoam to keep the wire below the surface. I folded and squashed the the wires into the indentations and fastened them with a “U” shaped pin to keep them tidy.
- Poking the skewers in pre-decided locations for taping the wires around so that bulbs can be located in the right height. I used 5 locations for the 9 bulbs so some towers have more than 1 bulb.
- Exactly behind the cake, I curved a cave out of the Styrafoam to place the battery box and make sure only the switch was accessible from the outside.
After all the carving poking and placing finished I tried the lights and all was working. So using a Styrafoam dummy cake made it very helpful to hide all the lighting systems.
The centre pillar part, including the base and top were already glued with hot glue gun so that they were one piece. Now I just had to cover the large base with velvet and protective cellophane sheet and place the base tier of the cake in the centre in order to start fondant coating work.
All the cakes were perfectly masked and ready to coat. I coated the first tier and right after, the second tier, with 3mm thick fondant. I lifted the second tier before the cake got too soft (from sitting in room temperature for too long after coming from the fridge) and placed it on top of the first tier. In between each tier, I used a thin cardboard cake base. A cake this size, when coated right after coming from the fridge, will easily start to sweat depending on the humidity in the air so I left the cake in an air conditioned environment and gave it till the next day to dry. By this time it was late enough to go home and get some sleep and have a fresh start the next day.
The following day, everything was ready to work with. The condensation on the cakes surfaces were dry. The castle blocks were ready to pipe on. The couple figurines were ready have face details, armor (for the knight groom), clothing etc. Flowers were all dry and ready for me to grab (thanks to my wife Jo). Although there were still countless steps in front of me, I could now just start from anywhere and engage my self with each task while clearly being able to think about what I am going to do next. This could be a horribly slow process and any wrong step could potentially follow with struggle. I took the yellow tags and wrote down every step in front of me without thinking about what to do first or last (I highly recommend this method of planning in your own cake decorating projects). After I have all the steps written out, I can easily re-arrange them to ensure that each steps makes the next step easier. Best part of this method is it allows you to focus on one simple task at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed with the work ahead. This strategy of project management can be applied to any project, not just cake decorating.
Piping Work for the Castle
As I looked at my reference pictures, I see that there are so many things I could incorporate and I could just add details for days but this is not a exhibition centrepiece. I wanted to finish castle with as much details as possible but there is no need to go in and be absolutely precise with all the details I see in the reference images. Also I didn’t have to follow the exact architecture as long as I stayed in a typical or similar silhouette. For the next two hours, I took one block at a time in my hand or in front of me and piped all the decorations, lines, window frames and ornaments etc. I used my own discretion to created a “look like” style. This is about giving the cake an appearance of being very detailed, while still keeping things realistic in terms of time.
After this, I let all the piping dry while I covered the top surface and the side of dummy cake with textured pastillage. 5 light posts were the only objects visible over the clean paved surface. Placing and gluing towers over the posts was yet to come.
This part of the story is very hard to explain in writing. I just keep on adding things side by side and check to see if it looks good. If I don’t like the position of something, I change it, relocate, re-glue etc. Even on some areas quickly improvise and add small blocks underneath the towers just to enhance the profile/silhouette . I just kept adding more piping and small objects around to give the castle a more medieval feeling. This part of the process can sometimes feel like you are in a trance or ‘in the zone’. It’s like there is an orchestra performance and at the end there is a standing ovation and applause. So another two to three hours, the castle was there to gain the first “wow” from my wife.
For the rest of the day I worked little further with the special couple, nicely cleaning up and spent some time with other cake orders. Tomorrow is the finishing day and the remaining 5% of work feels manageable. Happy.
So now I know that all the difficult steps are behind me but I have to still do the remaining steps as quickly as possible without any mistakes, which will cost extra time. So I did a little brain storming again, wrote down everything on yellow tags and got things in a queue. Nothing is complicated but I still have to finish all the other cakes for the week too. In general, the remaining work was…
- Making facade work on the lower cakes.
- Placing the wooden door on the centre pillar.
- Putting the finishing touches.
- Placing on the special couple.
- Placing vines in 3 different levels and making them look like one.
- Carefully arranging red roses in moderate numbers.
So finally I did it all and called my wife over for quality control. It is kind of important to stand back and look at the cake and officially declare that it is finished. Because when you are constantly looking at same object you can easily become ‘object blind’ so it’s good to ask another person’s as they can immediately identify if something is missing or not. My wife Jo is the best person to do that and criticise me.
Thank you for reading this story today and I wish you cakey days!